By John Boyle
The Sounders traded forward Eddie Johnson, the team’s leading scorer over the past two seasons, to D.C. United for what general manager Adrian Hanauer described as “a large amount of allocation money, which will help us make some of the roster moves we have already made and will continue to make in the not-so-distant future.”
Major League Soccer allows teams to use allocation money to buy down players’ salary-cap hits — essentially a method for gaining more cap space — and the Sounders came into this offseason cap constrained. Already the Sounders have parted ways with other significant players, largely for cap reasons, including midfielders Mauro Rosales and Steve Zakuani, and goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.
Even though Johnson, who revived his career in Seattle after signing in 2012, led the team with 23 goals over the past two seasons, this move hardly comes as a surprise. Johnson, who has also become a fixture with the U.S. national team since coming to Seattle, made it clear during the past season that he was looking for a raise from the $156,333 he was making, and Hanauer has admitted in the past that Johnson did indeed deserve that raise.
However, when Seattle re-signed midfielder Osvaldo Alonso to a contract that made him the team’s third designated player, it became clear Johnson’s time in Seattle was likely up.
“This was for the most part one of those salary cap-related transactions where it’s a tough system to live in with lots of good players who want to make lots of money,” Hanauer said on a conference call. “We just thought this was the best solution to us for managing our roster the way we want to manage it to hopefully get ourselves into a position to compete for a championship in 2014.”
Hanauer down played the idea that Johnson’s departure had to do with any clashes between him and Seattle’s coach staff or front office, though he also said that in the bigger picture, building a more cohesive locker room has been a factor in the bevy of offseason moves his team has made.
“It was mostly focused on salary cap,” Hanauer said. “It was certainly reported and there were some minor incidents, but minor incidents happen on many teams with many players and often times it doesn’t get reported. I know the speculation is going to be there were these other massive issues, but really when it came down to it, this was about getting our team balanced from back to front in a way that gives us the best chance of winning. Eddie obviously wanted to make more money, which sort of started this process down the road it has gone. And we’re happy for Eddie as well.”
Hanauer did, however, acknowledge that cap issues weren’t the only factor in all of these moves, not after the 2013 season ended with a spectacular late-season collapse and another early exit from the playoffs.
“I think it’s safe to say that,” Hanauer said when asked if there was some desire to shake things up. “It’s been five years, and we’ve obviously had a lot of success, but maybe not the pinnacle of success in our league. This last year was inconsistent, so we wanted to shake that up and try to create a scenario where we have more consistency. And as I’ve mentioned before, it wasn’t the best locker room we had, and again, the locker room thing was a combination of a lot of factors, but it was something we considered, and some of these moves are meant to continue to bring the group together so we can do those things (owner Joe Roth) mentioned, which is a super together team that fights, scratches and claws for each other and gives our fans the belief that we’re out there working as hard for them as they are for us, and be a team that they’re really proud of.”
For all the moves Seattle has made, don’t expect this to be the last one. With attacking players such as Rosales, Zakuani and now Johnson departing, Hanauer said the Sounders will continue to look for ways to improve.
“I’d say we’re still pretty far from the finished product,” he said.